2008 IT Services Survey Comments
We’ve selected several representative comments from the open-ended questions on this year’s survey and offer our responses to the community.
Community: “I fail to understand why an email account at EECS comes with a cost…”
IRIS: Expenses for services provided by IRIS are recovered using the campus recharge model. Besides email, cost recovery includes equipment refresh and staff support of wireless and wired networking, storage, backups, software licenses, helpdesk. The cost of providing email accounts is a modest portion of the total, and is one that is being considered for outsourcing.
ON SERVICE OUTAGES
Community: “In general you did a pretty lousy job of keeping users informed on the status of e-mail outages. Most of the time checking the IRIS homepage for updates ended up being a waste of time, which is a shame given the nice infrastructure for reporting updates there.”
IRIS: We agree our announcements should be more thorough and timely. We’re currently revising our internal procedures to ensure updates are posted in a more timely manner and with more complete information. For announcements, staff who are working on a problem now need to identify a person to take the communications role other than themselves, whose job it is to keep the helpdesk and community informed.
If you are concerned there is a major service outage and the News page hasn’t yet been updated, please call the helpdesk at 2-7777 to let us know you’re experiencing trouble.
Community: “The IMAP server has been unreliable and notices about the problems somewhat ineffectual. Being more clear about the length of time of the outage and the root cause could help.”
Community: “I am satisfied with pretty much everything except with the email service which is crucial for my everyday work. Its level has been dramatically reduced in the last year or so. What really disturbs me is that I can communicate with them only through the helpdesk staff and that is typically with week long delays. They seem to be so irresponsive so that I cannot tell whether anyone is actually trying to help me with the problem.”
IRIS: From Dec 2008 to Feb 2009 there were unexpected problems with the IMAP service caused by the underlying ZFS filesystem. We switched to ZFS in December 2007 but did not run into this peculiar performance bug until a year later. The problem was very difficult to diagnose; the system would operate normally, slow down to the point of being almost unusable, and then resume normal operations. At first it appeared that the system was becoming too heavily loaded and running out of memory, so we moved the IMAP service to a more powerful computer with 8 times as much RAM. At first, this appeared to solve the problem, but unfortunately it did not. After additional troubleshooting, it was determined that bugs in the ZFS filesystem were causing the problems. We moved all mail folders to a UFS filesystem, which improved performance.
Community: “I’ve appreciated the IMAP service over the past years but recently switched to CalMail during the period where the IMAP server was having trouble. I must say it’s quite good and wonder if it makes less sense for us to continue running our own email server. It’s been an unusually tough year for email. For most of our internal services, outsourced solutions are becoming really attractive – to the point where they are my go-to solution for anything new.”
IRIS: We are currently evaluating CalMail as an alternative to running the Departmental Mail Server. We are evaluating what hurdles are involved in moving accounts to CalMail and how to mitigate them. This is a difficult decision due to the differences between the services; for example backups are only kept for 14 days by CalMail whereas IRIS keeps them for 1 year. Also, the CalMail helpdesk won’t provide support specifically tailored to the EECS community.
ON SHARED DIRECTORIES
Community: “Myself and others in my lab have tried talking to numerous people about getting shared directories to work, logging into EECS domain computers, and other things. NOTHING ever works the first time, and our lab’s projects folder is usually inaccessible through Windows file sharing or the
IRIS: There are significant differences in the way that Windows and Unix handle file permissions. The Network Appliance fileservers try to handle both at the same time; sometimes this can be confusing. We’ve posted some technical details.
Community: “It appears that the 802.11a network has disappeared! I loved this network. The .b network is less reliable in my experience and on my Mac half the time it gets a time out when connecting to this network.”
IRIS: The “EECS-11a” network was renamed “EECS-Open” when the wireless equipment was upgraded in Fall 2008. “EECS-Open” supports 802.11a/b/g/n at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. We also added “EECS-Secure,” offering the same high-performance but with WPA2, which adds strong encryption and allows for automatic login without the web portal. For more info, check out the Wireless Network overview.
Community:“… The wireless service (EECS – WEP encrypted) is also not very reliable: although it seems to have gotten better compared to what it was like at the beginning of the fall semester, it still can be a bit intermittent in Soda Hall. I suspect that the issue is that there are tons of interfering access points in there. I think it would be sensible to ban anyone else from using that frequency range, and be careful in placing the access points and setting their channels so that they do not interfere with each other.”
IRIS: The wireless network was upgraded at the end of the Fall 2008 semester; we’re glad you’ve seen an improvement in service. If you’re still experiencing difficulties connecting, please file a Network Problem Report and our technicians will investigate. For wireless problems, be as specific as possible about your location.
IRIS uses centrally managed Cisco Aironet hardware which supports multiple virtual wireless LANs. This enables us to broadcast the campus wide AirBears signal as well as the EECS specific WLANs on the same wireless access points (WAP). The controller-based WAPs automatically adjust their channels and power levels to provide optimal coverage, reduce noise, and avoid interference from neighboringWAPs.
Community:“Many people like using their computers in the cafes and restaurants on Euclid. While the connect there seems to work, it’s very spotty. Perhaps this could be improved?”
IRIS: EECS provides wireless on Euclid via outdoors rooftop antennas. We’ve recently installed new access points and antennas to provide our new 802.11n wireless service on Euclid. Hopefully this will improve signal strength and coverage.
Community:“McLaughlin and HMMB” & “ 3rd Floor Etcheverry Hall 5th Floor Etcheverry Hall” & “More extended outdoors range” & “1st floor Soda Hall”
IRIS: IRIS manages the network in Soda, Cory, and Sutardja Dai Halls and at the BWRC. We’ve installed our own wireless access points on the campus network in a few other locations, including select parts of HMMB and Sibley Auditorium. We’ll be providing wireless in the new Qualcomm Cybercafe in Sutardja Dai Hall. We recently added an access point on the 1st floor of Soda.
We pioneered the mesh network on campus to offer “EECS” wireless and the “AirBears Beyond” network outdoors, but unfortunately these services were ended due to lack of sustainable funding. The costs associated with upgrading the experimental antennas to comply with fire and building codes are extremely prohibitive.
Community: “Not sure this is IRIS’ responsibility – but I am concerned for brand new users access to printers in Cory – and what a “default” option for this might be – The administration of printers is a disappointment and a lost opportunity for efficiencies. I would prefer a tax on everyone that is then used to fund centrally administered printers (same model as for the network).”
IRIS: IRIS runs a central print server to allow easy access to print queues, but printers and supplies are typically paid for by individual groups. To be fair, any centralized system would require per-page printing fees rather than a flat tax. Unfortunately, IRIS doesn’t have the resources to take on printer supply management or develop reliable print accounting at this time.
ON SOFTWARE LICENSING
Community: “It would be nice to have more Mac software available. The recent addition of VMware fusion was very helpful.”
IRIS: Between one and two hundred new Apple laptops have been added yearly through the Apple laptop purchase program and the survey results indicate the percentage of people using Macs is continuing to increase.
We’re happy that you’ve made good use of VMware Fusion.Microsoft Office software is currently available to anyone with an IRIS account by way of the MCCAAgreement. The MCCA Agreement also covers Windows XP/Vista for use in Virtual Machines. Symantec anti-virus software is also available to the community.
We are very interested to receive feedback about which other pieces of software would have a significant impact to a large percentage of the community.
Community: “It would be really helpful to provide department wide licenses for the Matlab toolboxes. Often times I want to use 1 function in the image or optimization toolbox, but can’t justify paying for the entire toolbox. If it’s possible to obtain a deal or discount by purchasing a site license, that would be really helpful for me and, I suspect, others.”
IRIS: The EECS Matlab licenses are part of a campus-wide agreement with Mathworks. The license agreement does not provide for site-licensing of toolboxes, only for licensing on a per-license-group basis.
Site licenses are typically based on the total number of seats. An EECS-specific Matlab license agreement could hypothetically be negotiated, but licensing all toolboxes for everyone rather than for the few individuals who need each one would be much more expensive: in addition to paying for the image toolbox, you would pay for all the toolboxes you don’t need.
ON THE HELPDESK
Community: “I don’t know how to change my EECS passwords. I guess I cant.”
Community:“I’m a little confused – what is the difference between CUSG and the helpdesk? I thought they were the same thing… In any case, my responses are for the office on the third floor.”
IRIS: The Helpdesk provides general computing support to the EECS community, answering questions such as “How do I configure Thunderbird to use IMAP?”, setting passwords, assisting with submission of EECS online forms, and loaning out software media. The Helpdesk’s chief product is information.
For personal system administration support, CUSG is available for hire. CUSG can help with hands-on support, such as setup, ongoing maintenance, hardware and software issues.
Community: “More training for helpdesk student workers.”
IRIS: Training for Helpdesk student staff is ongoing and always improving. If you need information, or are having a general computing problem, the Helpdesk will do its best to help. If you need more specialized assistance with your system, please consider hiring CUSG.
ON CLUSTERED COMPUTING
Community: “Cluster support used to be good. What happened?”
support@millennium: Unfortunately, as IT has evolved, building clusters is no longer research itself. Grant based funding to build and run clusters has dried up and it’s impractical to run clusters as a recharge service. Staff from the RAD Lab and Par Lab volunteer time to keep things running but this doesn’t offer much opportunity for individualized help. We’re investigating new funding strategies to pay for a few hours of staff time to continue operating the clusters.
Community: “There is hardly any easily findable documentation on these cluster facilities.”
support@millennium: The Millennium webpage is a Wiki. Please encourage your colleagues to contribute.
Community: “Thank you for the great facilities and support!”
IRIS: You’re Welcome!